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This Judge Earned 'Your Honor'

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 15, 2019

Judge Dennis Bailey snapped at the defendant's lawyers during a criminal trial.

As every trial lawyer knows, it happens. But this judge was about to snap for real. "One lawyer at a time," he warned them. "Only one lawyer argues."

Faster than a speaking objection, the judge ordered the bailiff to remove one of the defense attorneys. They won the trial, but the judge was not so lucky.

'Patient, Dignified, and Courteous'

After disciplinary proceedings, the Florida Supreme Court issued a public reprimand against Bailey because that's not how the court works. A "judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous," according to the state's judicial code of conduct.

For the defendant, it was more than a matter of judicial courtesy. She was on trial for a felony, and it didn't look good when Bailey barked at her lawyers in front of the jury. "Only one lawyer argues!" he repeated. "You have a hard time understanding me?"

Before the bailiff stepped in, one of the defense attorneys took a seat. They then moved to disqualify the judge, but he denied their motion. The judicial commission said Bailey should have disqualified himself.

"It is impossible to ignore the fact that the efficient administration of justice sometimes requires judges to place restrictions on the presentation of cases or arguments; such as a one-person-per-argument policy," the Supreme Court said. "However, such a policy should not be enforced arbitrarily, and never under the threat of physical force, in full view and hearing of the jury."

Apology Accepted

Bailey admitted his errors and apologized in writing to the defendant. In addition to stipulating to the public reprimand, he signed up for stress management. He recognized he needed counseling "so that in the future, he is better equipped to handle stressful situations, and does not resort to knee-jerk reactions." The Supreme Court accepted the commission's recommended discipline. It was not the usual way to get respect in the courtroom, but in this case Bailey earned his honor.

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